Russia's Strategy of Destabilization in Montenegro
Russia's Strategy of Destabilization in Montenegro
Russia’s Strategy of Destabilization in Montenegro Reuf Bajrović, Vesko Garčević & Richard Kraemer Russia Foreign Policy Papers Foreign Policy Research Institute Hanging by a Thread:
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4 Hanging by a Thread: Russia’s Strategy of Destabilization in Montenegro By: Reuf Bajrović, Vesko Garčević & Richard Kraemer Reuf Bajrović is a former Minister of Energy in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina government.
Previously, he founded and served as president of the Washington-based civic advocacy group, the Emerging Democracies Institute. He founded the Civic Alliance party in Bosnia Herzegovina. He holds an MA in Democracy and Human Rights and an MA in Governance and Policy of European Integration, both from University of Bologna. He holds a BA in political science from University of Louisville.
Ambassador Vesko Garčević has been teaching as a Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations at the Frederick S.Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University sinceJuly2016. During his diplomatic career, he held several important positions at the challenging political time of the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and democratic transition of Montenegro. From January 2015 through June 2016, Garčević was National Coordinator for NATO. He had been Ambassador of Montenegro to NATO from 2010 to 2014 as well as the bilateral Montenegrin Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
He served as Ambassador of Serbia and Montenegro, and Montenegro to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (the OSCE) in Vienna from 2004 to 2008. Richard Kraemer is a Fellow of FPRI’s Eurasia Program and formerly senior program officer for Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey at the National Endowment for Democracy. Previously, he oversaw projects in the aforementioned countries and the Levant at the Center for International Private Enterprise. Earlier, he further taught and researched at the Jagellonian University in Poland. He is also an affiliated expert of the Public International Law and Policy Group, having advised the governments of Georgia and Montenegro.
He has a particular interest in the role that democracy assistance plays in the maintenance of U.S. national security. He holds a BA from William and Mary and a JD from American University. Russia Foreign Policy Papers
5 Foreign Policy Research Institute Executive Summary In December 2015, Montenegro opted to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO),andindoingsocategoricallyrebuffedtwoyearsofRussianeffortstosecureapo rt there for the replenishment and repair of Russian military vessels. Russia then embarked on a new strategy: stoking political and ethnic divisions to destabilize Montenegro and preclude further Western integration. In the Kremlin’s best-case scenario, a pro-Russia government would come to power and reverse Montenegro’s Euro-Atlantic course. To this end, Russia coordinated with local opposition and Serb ethno-nationalists in an unsuccessful attempt to topple the democratically elected government of Montenegro in October 2016.
Despite the coup’s failure, the future of Montenegro’s progress toward Western integratoin remains uncertain. The institutional actors behind the failed coup attempt remain largely in place and steadfastly opposed to NATO membership. Should they come to power, they likely would withdraw Montenegro from the Alliance, retract its recognition of Kosovo, and potentially reunite with Serbia. Thus, to prevent the reversal of Montenegro’s Western trajectory, the U.S. and its NATO allies immediately must work to deepen their engagement with the country. Without undertaking measures to strengthen military cooperation, facilitate democratic reforms, accelerate the European Union accession process, and renew financial support for programs in the rule of law, the West is unprepared to counter Russia’s destabilizing efforts.
6 Russia Foreign Policy Papers Russia in the Balkans Russia vocally has opposed the expansion of Euro- Atlantic institutions into the Balkans, which it perceives as part of its sphere of influence.1 When the Kremlin feels that its influence is eroding in this region vis-à-vis the West, it becomes a destabilizing force. This is a concern of Moscow’s throughout the Western Balkans, and in particular, in Montenegro. The Kremlin knows that instability brings underperformance in governance and the economy. It also believes—as demonstrated by the wars in Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014)—that a conflict-averse Europe and U.S.
will not integrate states where political instability is chronic. For example, NATO’s Membership Action Plan (MAP) is a “NATO programme of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance.”2 Within this context, fulfilling minimum NATO membership requirements includes full civilian control of military, compatibility of NATO forces, democratic governance, and progress towards a market economy.3 These requirements cannot be met in a state of chronic political dysfunction where intolerance and acrimony is pervasive and institutionial corruption is common.
To this end, Russia has adopted a strategy of stoking political and ethnic divisions and rewarding crony capitalism in target states, aiming to impede further Euro-Atlantic integration. In Montenegro, the placement of a pro-Russian, anti-Western government in Podgorica is essential to Moscow’s strategy to thwart greater Western 1 Reacting to Montenegro’s invitation to join NATO, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman stated, “Russia has repeatedly warned that the continuing expansion of NATO . cannot fail to lead to actions in response . from Russia.” See “Montene- gro invited to join NATO,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 2, 2015, https://www.rferl.org/a/montenegro-na- to-invite/27401948.html.
See, also, warnings made by Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Sergei Zelenyak in Belgrade, December 26, 2015; and Gordana Knezevic, “Montenegro’s NATO-Russian Chess Match,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, January 2, 2017, https://www.rferl.org/a/montenegro-nato-rus- sia-chess-match/28210094.html.
2 Membership Action Plan (MAP), North Atlantic Treaty Orga- nization, https://www.nato.int/cps/ua/natohq/topics_37356.htm (accessed May 22, 2018). 3 “Minimum requirements for NATO membership,” US State Department, https://1997-2001.state.gov/regions/eur/fs_members. html. engagement in its perceived sphere of influence. A crucial Russian entry point lies in its exploitation of ultranationalistic sentiments couched in Pan- Slavism. Appealing to a broadly Slavic heritage, common Christian Orthodox faith, and Russia’s historically patriarchical role in the region stemming from the mid-to-late 19th century, the Kremlin works to forge common cause with ethnic Serbs.
Extreme Serb nationalism, coupled with its vision of Greater Serbia (the unification of all ethnic Serbs into one state), creates fertile grounds for recruitment to Russian-backed political and paramilitary activities. Montenegro has its share of groups promoting ethno-nationalist ideologies to which a portion of its Serbian population is sympathetic, if not outright supportive.4 The primary Serb ethno-nationalist political force is the Democratic Front (DF), a coalition made up of several Serb nationalist parties known for their pro-Russian affiliation comprising: the Democratic People’s Party, New Serb Democracy, Democratic Serb Party, and the Yugoslav Communist Party of Montenegro.
Russian media is supportive of the DF and other right-leaning, Serb nationalist political groups in Montenegro, including non-governmental organizations such as the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro and No to War, No to NATO, noteworthy for their anti-Western rhetoric and pro-Russian stances. Given Russia’s means of political leverage and the geopolitical stakes, Montenegro’s continued Western trajectory remains at risk.
Montenegro in a Geopolitical Context Montenegro is a parliamentary republic located on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea. By the World Bank’s classification, the country of 642,500 is upper middle-income.5 After the collapse of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Montenegro joined its neighbor Serbia to establish the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992. This state union existed until 2006 when the majority of Montenegrin citizens voted for independence in a nationwide referendum. 4 For more background on the role of formal and informal ultra- nationalist Serb groups, see, “Bosnia on the Russian Chopping Block: The Potential for Violence and Steps to Prevent It,” For- eign Policy Research Institute, March 16, 2018, pp.
8-10, https:// www.fpri.org/article/2018/03/bosnia-russian-chopping-block-po- tential-violence-steps-prevent/.
5 Country data, World Bank, https://data.worldbank.org/country/ montenegro (accessed April 14, 2018).
7 Foreign Policy Research Institute Under the leadership of Milo Djukanovic,6 Montenegro consistently has sought deeper relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization(NATO)andtheEuropeanUnion(EU). However, a considerable minority (approximately 35-40%)7 of the population remains skeptical of this path.8 These segments question Montenegro’s Euro-Atlantic partnerships for a variety of reasons, including the historical permeation of Pan-Slavism with attendant Pan-Orthodox leanings9 and resentment of the 1999 NATO bombing campaign 6 Milo Djukanovic, re-elected as the country’s president on April 15, 2016, has served either in that office or as prime minister in several governments from 1991 to the present.
7 See, “Growth in support: 47.3 percent of citizens to join NATO” [Rast podrske: za ulazak u NATO 47.3 odsto gradana], Crna Gora, February 1, 2016, http://crna.gora.me/vijesti/politika/rast- podrske-za-ulazak-u-nato-473-odsto-gradana/. 8 Levels of skepticism of NATO membership in Montenegro are not uniquely high in comparison to other NATO states; e.g. 30 percent in Germany and over 40 percent in France. See, “Sup- port for NATO is widespread among member nations,” Pew Research Center, July 6, 2016, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact- tank/2016/07/06/support-for-nato-is-widespread-among-member- nations/.
9 The Pan-Slavic political movement grew out of the 1848 Spring of Nations, around which time the Slavic peoples of the Hapsburg Empire convened a congress in Prague. Its aim was to secure more democratic representation for its ethnically Slavic subjects. By the 1860s, many of its ideas had become popular in Russia; however, Russian thinkers reshaping it under the premise that the West was culturally bankrupt and spiritually bereft, the latter implying a “redemptive” role for the Orthodox Church. See, also, “Pan-Slavism,” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica. com/event/Pan-Slavism (accessed May 22, 2016).
against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The stakes surrounding Montenegro’s geopolitical orientation are high. Geographically, its location on the Adriatic Sea grants deep-water access to the Mediterranean from the ports of Bar and Kotor. Politically, its growing alliance with the Euro-Atlantic Community thwarts local ambitions for a “Greater Serbia”10 and limits Russia’s efforts to expand its influence in the Balkans. Russia’s interest in Montenegro heightened several years ago. As the reliability of its naval base in Tartus, Syria became less certain, Russia began seeking alternatives.
In September 2013, the Russian government requested a meeting with the Montenegrin Ministry of Defense to discuss the temporary moorage of Russian warships at the ports of Bar and Kotor. By Moscow’s proposal, Russian ships would dock under a privileged status that would allow for the extensive use of territorial waters. In sum, it was a request to install a Russian naval base in Montenegro. Podgorica rebuked the request, instead referring Moscow to the UN Convention on Law of Sea, whereby Russian ships in need of assistance for refueling or maintenance would be granted as such accordingly.
The value to Moscow of an Eastern Mediterranean 10 “Vojislav Seselj: I wanted a ‘Greater Serbia,’” Balkan Insight, June 10, 2013, http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/seselj-s- goal-was-greater-serbia.
Port of Kotor, Montenegro. (Source: Shutterstock)